POTEET, Texas – As the high winds kick in and red flag warnings go into effect again, fire departments across South Texas are on alert.
A burn ban is currently in effect for Atascosa County.
“Oh, it’s been hectic,” said Rick Flores, assistant chief for the Poteet Volunteer Fire Department. “(From) last month (until) today, we have (had) 66 calls.”
For him and his chief, Curtis Adams, the priority is safety.
“(It’s) hours on end sometimes,” Flores said about recent wildfire calls in the area. “I’ll tell you, you know, just recently, about a week ago, we were in Lytle helping them out. And I, myself, was there for about 12 hours. I know some of the guys were there longer, but it’s awesome from the community’s standpoint. The neighbors, they brought out food and water, Gatorade, and things like that. So, we have a very good community.”
Flores said the support has been consistent for more than a year now, thanks to the Poteet Volunteer Fire Department Auxilary Group.
“Our auxiliary group is just growing in numbers,” Flores said. “It’s amazing. We have so many people (in the group), and the assistance that they give us when we’re out there on a call (is great).”
Candace Pérez, wife and mother of two firefighters in Poteet, helped start the group in January 2021.
“There was one specific day that really caught my attention,” Pérez said. “Lots of departments were called, and they were out there for (what) I’m going to guess was about 14 hours.”
She could see the huge cloud of smoke from her home and felt helpless.
“These poor guys. I’m sure (were) hot,” Pérez said. “So I just put on Facebook, ‘Hey, does anybody want to bring Gatorade, water (or) snacks to the fire station?’”
Eventually, that led to a formal conversation with the chief and assistant chief about starting an auxiliary group.
“An auxiliary (group) is men and women that are just wanting to make a difference to assist the firefighters,” Flores said. “It’s an awesome group.”
Since its inception, the group has 20 active members and hundreds more supporting its Facebook page.
“What we’re doing is making sure that here at the station, we have a lot of items ready to go,” Pérez said. “We have our ice chest clean and ready to go. We have granola bars, little fruit cups, Gatorade, water, little powder packets of Propel (and) different things like Chapstick, facial and hand wipes, Visine.”
They also share with other fire departments as it’s a team effort to put out the flames that threaten property and lives, Pérez said.
“Now that I see everything that they go through, I realize exactly how dangerous it is, how close they come to losing their lives at times,” Pérez said.
She hopes people will be more mindful of their actions and heed current red flag warnings.
“I want them to consider this cool breeze that you and I might enjoy. It’s very, very dangerous,” Pérez said. “All these big fires (they’ve responded to) didn’t start off as a giant fire. They started off very, very small. And, you know, they took off, and people’s homes get destroyed. People’s lives get turned upside down, and it’s not worth it. So if anybody sees anything burning, I encourage them to call it in, no matter how big or small.”